D.C. court reverses, remands slip-and-fall 'trespasser' case

By Nathan Bass | Jan 14, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Legal Newsline) - A trial court's award of summary judgment to a property owner based upon the classification of the plaintiff as a trespasser in a "slip and fall" case was reversed and remanded by the D.C. Court of Appeal on January 3.

The three-judge panel unanimously agreed that the case be remanded to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia because the "current record does not establish as a matter of law that Ms. Boyrie was a trespasser ..."

Judge Roy W. McLeese wrote the opinion for the panel which included Judges Kathryn A. Oberly and John M. Steadman.

Angelina Boyrie visited an apartment building, owned and managed by E&G Property Services, to check on the status of a television repair being performed by a renter of an apartment at the location.

After receiving no response at the front door, Boyrie and a friend walked onto a sidewalk next to the building and called out, and then proceeded to a "dark and unlit area behind the building," according to the opinion.

The area was paved and resembled a parking lot but there was no entrance to the apartment building from the area. After Boyrie's friend called out for a few minutes, they decided to leave and when walking toward the front of the building, Boyrie slipped and fell, fracturing her ankle.

Plaintiff Boyrie filed suit alleging that her injury was the result of the property owner's "negligent failure to remove ice and snow from the property."

"The trial court granted the defendants summary judgment on the basis that "undisputed facts established that Ms. Boyrie was trespassing at the time of her injury, and that Appellees therefore did not owe Ms. Boyrie a duty of reasonable care."

Boyrie appealed to the district's highest court.

"Although some jurisdictions continue to draw such distinctions, in the District of Columbia a landowner owes a duty of reasonable care to all persons, including both invitees and licensees, who are lawfully on the landowner's premises," McLeese wrote.

"A landowner generally does not owe a duty of reasonable care to trespassers ... A trespasser may, however, recover for 'intentional, wanton, or willful injury or the maintenance of a hidden engine of destruction.'

"A trespasser is a person who enters or remains upon land in the possession of another without privilege to do so created by the possessor's consent or otherwise ... Authorization to enter property can be express or implied."

"Ms. Boyrie conceded that she was on appellees' property without express invitation, either from appellees or from the resident she and her companion hoped to visit. It does not follow, however, that Ms. Boyrie necessarily was a trespasser when she walked onto the paved area adjacent to the sidewalk," McLeese continued.

"Ms. Boyrie would be a trespasser only if she could not reasonably have believed that appellees had implicitly permitted, or acquiesced in, her entry onto the paved area. We conclude that the undisputed facts do not establish as a matter of law that Ms. Boyrie was a trespasser.

"As far as the current record reveals, a reasonable person could have concluded that the paved area was open, perhaps to the public generally, but at a minimum to someone seeking to contact a resident in the apartment building.

"Because the undisputed facts on the current record do not establish as a matter of law that Ms. Boyrie was a trespasser, appellees were not entitled to summary judgment. We therefore reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings."

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